A gathering of more than sixty Afghans in Qatar this week provided a rare opportunity for frank discussion on the open questions facing a society still gripped in a decades-long conflict. A group of Kabul-based political, civil society, and government-endorsed representatives sat across from more than a dozen Taliban political officers, in a wrenching exchange of grievances, hopes, and fears about a slew of long-standing and contentious issues.

Trump lifts some restrictions on Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei

US President Donald J. Trump agreed on June 29 to lift some restrictions on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and delay imposing new tariffs on Chinese goods. These concessions were announced following a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, at which the two leaders agreed to restart trade negotiations between their countries.

“Frankly, this was all fairly predictable,” said Mark Linscott, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a former assistant US trade representative (USTR) for South and Central Asian Affairs.

“The two sides had already made progress before and intensifying the war is in neither side’s interest,” Linscott said, adding, “At this point, it seems a lot easier to impose tariffs than to lift them, so avoiding new ones makes a lot of sense, particularly to allow more space for negotiation.”

On a visit to New Delhi this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was informed by Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar that India will do “what is in our national interest” when it comes to purchasing a Russian missile defense system. Despite US pressure and the threat of sanctions, the Indian government has no plans to scrap a deal to purchase the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system.

Ahead of Pompeo’s visit to India on June 25 and 26, State Department officials had urged “allies and partners, including India, to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering the CAATSA sanctions.” The 2017 Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) threatens to sanction countries for buying Russian weapons.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his party to a resounding electoral victory on May 23. Modi, who leads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), defied most predictions by expanding his party’s presence in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament. The BJP is projected to win 303 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. The main opposition alliance, led by the Indian National Congress, has admitted defeat.

The big question now is how Modi will use his second five-year term at the helm of the world’s largest democracy. India faces plenty of challenges: a high unemployment rate, slow economic growth, changing geopolitical relationships, border security issues, and a deepening religious divide.

Here is a quick look at how Modi handled these issues in his first term and what he will need to focus on in the next five years.

For better or worse, the Trump administration has encouraged new soul-searching at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva over the need for reforms to the multilateral trade system. But even well before Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States in November 2016, the United States and other WTO members were already confronting a series of existential questions. 

Trump signals end to preferential trade treatment for India

In a letter to the US Congress on March 4, US President Donald J. Trump wrote that he intends to end preferential trade treatment for India. Trump wrote that he had taken the decision because “after intensive engagement between the United States and the Government of India, I have determined that India has not assured the United States that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to the markets of India.” It is important to assess exactly what this decision means and consider the full range of implications for the US-India trade relationship.

The Indian Air Force strike on what India claims was a terrorist camp in Balakot, Pakistan, on February 26 followed by the Pakistani air strike on targets in India-administered Kashmir have placed both countries on a perilous path to war. The escalation ladder on any such military actions between these two nuclear-armed neighbors remains very steep. Each is equipped with standoff weapons that can be launched from air platforms without sending troops across their border, and increasingly have been talking of the use of miniaturized nuclear weapons euphemistically labeled “tactical.” Once they reach that level, a full-scale war, involving dozens of nuclear weapons could engulf the subcontinent with grave consequences for the whole region and the world. Nuclear Winter, the shutting off sunlight from the Northern Hemisphere of the globe, would mean no light or food for the world. This is not science fiction but reality. Hence, it is critical that leaders in India and Pakistan defuse the current situation before it becomes impossible to retrieve.

A new set of tax reforms announced by Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar on January 23 follows pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from which Islamabad is looking to secure another loan. The bill, which seeks to boost foreign and domestic investment, comes as Pakistan faces a balance-of-payments crisis on its foreign loans intensified by currency devaluations and rising energy imports.

The tax measures would be Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s second set of fiscal reforms since taking power in July 2018. 

In April 2018, India’s central bank—the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)—issued a new rule for payment systems providers operating in the country. Under the rule, all user data collected within the borders of the country needed to be localized within six months. The RBI said it was motivated by the need to have “unfettered supervisory accesses” to such data, given the fast-growing and increasingly technology dependent payments ecosystem in India. This new data protection rule is just one part of a larger set of multi-sectoral data protection and privacy measures being considered by India, put forth in a contentious draft Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill in July 2018. The draft PDP Bill is expexted to be introduced to Parliament this summer after the Lok Sabha elections in India in May 2019.

After seventeen years of war in Afghanistan, the NATO Mission Commander, US Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, provided a candid assessment of the situation, stating: “This [war in Afghanistan] is not going to be won militarily… This is going to a political solution.”

Last week, talks between Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, and the Taliban produced a tentative agreement that has generated hope for peace. What then are the mechanisms through which the military resources of the remaining thirty-nine troop-contributing nations can be translated into an enduring political resolution in Afghanistan?